Home » ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ Review – Less Than Meets The Eye

‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ Review – Less Than Meets The Eye

by James Preston Poole
The maximal leader Optimus Primal in his huge gorilla form stands next to Optimus Prime in his classic robot form as they prepare to head into battle in TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS.

After the critical disaster that was Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight, Paramount knew they needed to switch gears and fast. To do that, they fast-tracked Bumblee, a soft reboot of sorts that took the grand story of robots in disguise as cars back to basics, wowing critics and audiences with its heart, nostalgia, and infectious lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld. It was also, unfortunately, the lowest box office earner in live-action Transformers history. Instead of going into panic mode and scrapping their relaunch, Paramount and Hasbro decided instead to move on with a standalone sequel, loosely based on the Beast Wars animated series from the late ’90s. Tapping Creed II helmer Steven Caple Jr. to direct and getting up-and-comers Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback to star, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has a lot of potential that ultimately adds up to less than meets the eye. 

At the outset, after an obligatory prologue that introduces our MacGuffin known as the Transwarp Key – an artifact that provides for interstellar travel sought out by the planet-sized mechanical god Unicron (Colman Domingo) – Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is almost endearing. Anthony Ramos is an affable presence as Noah Diaz, a down-on-his-luck ex-military man whose love for his ailing younger brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez) and inability to get a job leads him to a life of crime. A minor heist turns for the worst as the Porsche he’s set to boost is none other than the transformer Mirage (Pete Davidson), a “totally radical” ‘90s bro stereotype perfect for the film’s 1994 setting. Noah and Mirage have dynamite chemistry, bouncing off each like natural bickering brothers who are nonetheless able to put aside their differences to kick some ass. 

Maximal leader Optimus Primal stands next to Cheetor in his animal form and the autobots Wheeljack and Arcee in their classic inspired robot forms on the battlefield in TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS.
‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Following a promising first-act action sequence where Mirage demonstrates his ability to throw out hologram decoys, or “mirages” of himself, it’s time for Noah to meet the rest of the Autobots. The stern, retro-designed Optimus Prime (the always-great Peter Cullen) leads the spunky Bumblebee who sports his classic Chevrolet Camaro look, the fast-moving Arcee (Liza Koshy) who transforms into a red Ducati, and scientist Wheeljack (Cristo Fernández) who disguises himself as a beige 1970s Volkswagon Bus. The Autobots need the Transwarp Key to return to Cybertron before Unicron’s emissaries, the villainous Terrorcons led by the sadistic Scourge (Peter Dinklage) can get to them. Buoyed by a soundtrack of hip-hop classics, bright character designs, and the introduction of obsessed artifact researcher Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), the pieces seem to be in place for a rousing adventure! Then, the next action sequence in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hits. 

The attempt to stray as far away from Michael Bay’s style in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts couldn’t be more apparent. Credit where credit is very much due, the cinematography by Enrique Chediak is crisp and clear while the editing isn’t as discombobulating as before. The set-pieces are less clear to follow, however, made of admittedly cool hero shots and moments of impact strung together by incoherent glimpses of heroes firing at each other with no sense of spatial geography. Having no palpable levels of momentum makes it hard to even tell who is turning the tide in the battle until it’s done. Moreover, when the crew makes it to Peru to retrieve the Key, there’s a highway chase that fares a bit better due to Arcee’s ease of movement, but there’s still a stinging feeling that it’s mostly money shots strung together so the trailer can sell the movie. 

Things begin to really unravel whenever the Maximals, animal-like Transformers who escaped their planet’s wreckage by Unicron, come into the picture. Now, on paper, these folks are enticing. The ape-like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), bird-like Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), mechanical rhino Rhinox (David Sobolov), and cheetah-esque Cheetor (Tongyai Chirisa) are all awesome in distinct ways and the voice cast really tries to breathe life into them. A script written by – deep breath – Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber reduces these new potential fan favorites into simple talking lore machines. The human plot fades further into the background. Dominique Fishback nearly has nothing to do for the better part of the third act! Instead, a dull, monotonous battle ensues punctuated by a few neat moments that sadly boils down to watching someone play with action figures… and not in an endearing way.

The pink autobot Arcee fires her hand cannons while holding onto the autobot Wheeljack in his beige Volkswagen Bus form on a mountainside road in Peru as an explosion happens behind them in TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS.
‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Somehow, at the eleventh hour, director Steven Caple Jr. manages to make some critical emotional moments work. The more intimate fights with the Terrorcons emphasize their brutality, Peter Dinklage and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Nightbird giving a hell of a showing. Optimus Prime and Primal teaming up for beatdowns is something that will leave an ear-to-ear grin on every child at heart’s face. Furthermore, Anthony Ramos gets a huge hero moment that will probably lead to some applause in mostly quiet screenings as well. Add on an ending that gives a major tease to the future of where this cinematic universe could be headed, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts threatens to leave a slightly positive impression. 

On the whole, the finished product just isn’t up to snuff. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts works as a passable blockbuster, but a lack of real ambition or personality leaves it as possibly the least interesting of the franchise. By and large, this latest installment leaves its ambition at the door, serving up what may as well be a filler Transformers movie. In the crowded summer 2023 blockbuster season, it sure feels like one. Other than a few cool shots and that humdinger of an ending you won’t want to be spoiled for you, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts isn’t a movie that there’s a lot to say about. That most certainly can’t be said about the other six live-action Transformers films, no matter how absurd or uncanny they can be. Forgettable is the word we’re looking for here.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hits theaters June 9!

Follow writer James Preston Poole on Twitter: @JamesPPoole


Joe G Kushner June 10, 2023 | 5:12 am - 5: 12 am

It is the worst movie I’ve seen this year. It has quite possibly doomed the franchise and will have no legs.

LadyP June 10, 2023 | 7:20 am - 7: 20 am

I watched it and I loved it. Critics are exactly that critics.


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